4. Heir of all things

Meditations in Hebrews 1: 4.  Heir of all things 

Heb 1:2  in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things,

I don’t know why, but talk of inheritances and heirs have never rung clearly with me but I am praying for something new here. I know what an inheritance is; it is what someone leaves in their will. I know what an heir is; it is the person who receives the inheritance in the will of another, more often than not, an older family member. But God doesn’t make a will because God doesn’t die.

Nevertheless, the writer says that the Father has ‘appointed’ the Son to be His heir, the one who will receive all that He owns. Oh yes, when a person makes a will they don’t hold on to bits of what they own for themselves because they won’t be around to enjoy those bits when the other comes into their inheritance! What the Father wills for the Son is literally everything in Creation (because he goes on to speak of Creation).

When Jesus was teaching, he used a parable about a landowner with a vineyard that he let out. The rent for the vineyard would be fruit at harvest but when the owner sent servants to collect some fruit they were beaten, killed or stoned. Eventually he sent his son, But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, `This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” (Mt 21:38 – also see Mk 12:7 & Lk 20:14) which they then do. It is clearly about Israel and Jesus and his coming death. All three Synoptic Gospels have and it is as if Jesus wants us to note the language – he is an heir and he has an inheritance, this land, this people, God’s people.

Now there are two passages in the epistles that speak to this and we need to quote them in their entirety to catch the full thrust of what is being said. First from Ephesians: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:18-23)

Paul wanted them to understand their hope, an inheritance for all believers, His power (in reality the power of His Holy Spirit) that transforms and conveys eternal life. That is OUR inheritance, everything flows from that and we have it of course because of the Cross. But, says Paul, that’s the same power (now in us) that raised Jesus from the dead and lifted him back to heaven so that he could sit at his Father’s right hand again, for now and eternity, where he is above everything and every one in existence. Jesus’ inheritance FIRST means his right to sit at the Father’s right hand ruling over everything, but everything. This is what the kingdom of God is all about, about His Son ruling over this kingdom over all of creation, man and beast, powers and principalities. The mystery which I believe we have never yet understood, is that al of this is “for the church.”

The second passage, again from Paul, comes near the end of 1 Corinthians: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:22-28) The end outworking of the kingdom of God under the rule of His Son, is that one day there will come a time when the Son leaves his Father’s side and returns to the earth as a conquering king (see Rev 19) and subdues anyone and anything that has so far refused to come under his rule. When he has done that he will hand back the completed project to the Father. Until then, he is the rightful heir to the kingdom of God, the rule of God on earth.

A third passage may also shed some light, that of Revelation 5 where the lamb stands before the throne in heaven and is found to be the only one worthy to undo the scroll of the end time history. Those around the throne sing of his work of redeeming mankind and add, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12) Because he died on the Cross he was deemed worthy to receive his inheritance, these seven things of this verse. There never has been, nor ever will be, one who can compare in any way with the unique Son of God, Saviour of the World yes, but also ruler of the world, which he continues to do in a benign manner until the great and glorious day comes when he will wind it up.

When was this inheritance established and declared by the Father? It must have been before even the Creation of all that we know. Jesus was able to say to the Father, “you loved me before the creation of the world,” (Jn 17:24) and the apostle Peter tells us that, “He was chosen before the creation of the world.” (1 Pet 1:20) so that, looking forward into the future, the apostle Paul could say of God’s planning, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world.”   (Eph 1:4) Why? Because they agreed then on, “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Rev 13:8) Yes, that was all part of the package we call the will of God decreed from before the foundation of the world, so that the fruit or outworking of the Cross would entitle Jesus to reign over all things from then on at his Father’s right hand. That was his inheritance. Hallelujah!

3. Jesus the Word

Meditations in Hebrews 1: 3.  Jesus the Word

Heb 1:1-2  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, 

So, in the drama of the world, the curtain falls on the Old Testament with a restored Israel having rebuilt the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem and are now settling down after a most traumatic period of their history where they had been exiled and then restored. Prophetic words have come in more recent years through Malachi and Zechariah but those had been largely to encourage the rebuilding work, but that was now complete. What next? The record is there, centuries of God communicating with this nation through His prophets, what more might He say? Time passes and nothing. More time passes and still nothing. Several hundred years have passed and still nothing.

The scholars look at the scrolls and wonder. There have been prophetic hints that there will be one who will come, a messiah, but the prophetic words seem so contradictory that different schools of thought declare different things about him. Suffering seems to be part of the prophetic package, but then so does the thought that he will be a mighty ruler, but how can the two harmonise? The apostle Paul was later to use the word ‘mystery’ to describe this conundrum (Rom 16:25, Eph 3:2-11, 6:19, Col 1:26,27, 2:2,3, 4:3) and it was a mystery because God had not made it fully clear, and yet in the fullness of the New Testament revelation, at least seven times the scriptures declare that the mystery that was Christ was planned by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. Merely because it was a mystery to us, that doesn’t mean it was to God. The plan of sending Christ was not a last-minute crisis plan because everything was going wrong. No, God had planned it when He looked into the future in what would become time-space history and He saw sin and saw the need that would be there and saw the only way to deal with it, and so they, the Trinity, decided he would come, he would die and he would be raised from the dead, all before He spoke the words, “Let there be light”.

What I find strange, at first sight at least, is that the writer to the Hebrews does not lay out a history of Jesus Christ. Why? Well, that has already been done. It is probable that at least three of the Gospels are in existence and the church is up and running. This book doesn’t come over as a gospel weapon demanding belief and repentance, but more like a treatise for Jews who already believe, to bolster their belief with in-depth understanding of the wonder of the Christ. The basic facts of Christ were already well known. Probably the best we can say is that it was written before AD70 when the temple was destroyed because all references to the temple are still in the present. They know about Christ, they are believers.

And thus we come to this incredibly compact ‘prologue’ as some like to call the first four verses and because they are so compact it is so easy to skim past them hardly taking in the wonder that is here compacted into such a small space.  So (yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief, we have got here) we come to the text, now God has spoken to us through His Son. Even at this point in history, it is possible they do not fully realise what this means. It is going to take the aging apostle John, living in Ephesus, to take his years of reflecting on the wonder of those three incredible years with Jesus, and conclude he needs to write it down, an insight that went much further that the three Synoptic Gospels. John has memories, John was there, and in old age those incredible memories are sharp and clear and he realises that so much was said and done that the first three had nor picked up on. And so, for example, we have John remembering Jesus speaking about being the bread that has come down from heaven (read John 6) and we realise the ‘person’ who comes into the Gospels as a tiny baby had already existed in eternity, he didn’t just begin two thousand years ago. It is almost certain that Hebrews came before John’s Gospel but that makes even more amazing the revelation that comes through these first four verses of just who Jesus the Christ was.

John in his Gospel speaks of Jesus as ‘the word’ and although that would have much significance for Greek readers, put very simply a word is a basic form of communication. Jesus is God’s communication to this world. When our writer says that God has spoken to us “by his Son,” we should not just take that to mean He has spoken only through Jesus’ words but by everything that happened to Jesus, what he said AND did. All those things shout into history; “THIS IS THE UNIQUE SON OF GOD. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN AND NEVER WILL BE ANOTHER BEING LIKE HIM!”

This is not in any way to detract from Jesus’ words which in themselves were often so wonderful, but it says look at the wonder of what he did and that will also speak to you. The apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost understood this: Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Act 2:22-24) There it is, so much information again in such a short space: Jesus a man, a man from Nazareth, who did miracles, wonders and signs to show who he was and to turn eyes to God, a man who was acting out the will of God planned from long past, the will which included him being crucified but then being raised from the dead. This is the Christ we follow. But Peter didn’t say everything in that encapsulated history, he didn’t have time to do that. He didn’t tell of the wonder of the events surrounding Jesus birth, which were already told by Matthew and Luke, he didn’t tell of so many of the things John remembered and which make his Gospel such a wonder, but he said sufficient to mark out Jesus as unique.

Peter was not a theologian and so did not try to explain the theory and detail behind the events. Later theologians, trying to formulate the truths that had been conveyed through the New Testament, having to stand against heresies in the early centuries of the Church, would speak of Jesus as begotten of the Father which simply means, come out of the Father, as they sought to explain that Jesus was God, of the same essence as the Father, one with the Father, truly God himself. It is a word that only comes up one in an Old Testament prophecy but it is the nearest we can come to trying to understand the incarnation, the coming of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ.  We will ponder more on it as we consider the wonder of what these first four verses say. Ask the Lord to open your eyes so that you may see as you’ve never seen before.

2. God the Communicator

Meditations in Hebrews 1:  2. God the Communicator

Heb 1:1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways 

I think I have lost count of the number of times, over the years, I have written, “God is a communicator”, for the whole Bible is about God communicating with mankind. From the outset, before the Fall, He communicated with Adam (Gen 2:16,17). After the Fall He communicated with Adam and Eve (Gen 3:9-19), then later with Cain (Gen 4:6-15) and then even later, by implication to Enoch (Gen 5:22-24) and then later still to Noah (Gen 6:13 on), but the ‘big conversation with God’ man was Abram (Gen 12 on).

In our verses at the beginning of Hebrews the writer is going to contrast Jesus with even the prophets and say how much greater than them he was, so whatever we see of these men (and they were mostly men although Deborah (Judges 4:4 on) stands out) we need to remember that Jesus was greater than them.

Now Abraham is the first man designated by God as a prophet (Gen 20:7) yet not a man who  brings, “Thus says the Lord,” types of word but without a doubt he us shown as a man who has conversations with God and is later described in the Bible as ‘God’s friend’ (Jas 2:23). Now Jesus was more than a friend, he was the unique Son of God, begotten of the Father (begotten means ‘comes out of’).

Four hundred years or so later, Moses would designate himself a prophet (Deut 18:15) but Moses was unique among those designated prophets in the Old Testament in that he spoke face to face with God and when he came out of God’s presence, his face shone with the glory of God (Ex 34:34). When the writer to the Hebrews says “at many times and in many ways” we don’t know what he has in mind but clearly already we have seen Abraham walking and talking with God and Moses waiting in God’s presence in the Tent of Meeting or the Tabernacle having face-to-face encounters with God. Remember along the way, my assertion that God is a communicator. There had been previous communications but now much deeper communications with both of these men, both designated as ‘prophets’.

We next see the word ‘prophet’ applied to a specific individual (Moses had used the word in teaching throughout Deuteronomy) in Judges 6 where we read, When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says…..” (Judg 6:7,8) This seems to be the first ‘Thus says the Lord’ type of prophet who bring one message calling Israel to repent. However, when you read Judges you realise this is not the only divine communication. In chapter 2 an angel of the Lord comes with a message of rebuke to Israel (Judg 2:1-3) and at the end of that chapter the Lord speaks to Israel again (2:20-22). In chapter 4 we come across Deborah the prophetess (4:4-) who clearly communicates God’s will. This brings us to Gideon to whom the Lord appears to speak directly (7:2-).  Later, in Judges 10 there is a time when Israel appear to repent and call on the Lord who answers (Judg 10:11-14), presumably through a prophet. When it comes to the story of Samson in Judges 13, it starts with an angel of the Lord communicating with his parents (Judg 13:3-5,11-18)

At the end of the period of the judges, Samuel “was attested as a prophet of the LORD” (1 Sam 3:20) and we read the Lord, “revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (v.21) which, examining Samuel’s ministry, would suggest a combination of “Thus says the Lord” type of words plus words of wisdom as he judged the people. Samuel, of course, initially heard God’s word out loud (1 Sam 3:4-). What we tend to forget is that before this started to happen to Samuel, we are told “a man of God” came to Eli, the old priest, with a strong and lengthy prophetic word of rebuke and correction. (1 Sam 2:27-36). God of communication!

Now rather that go on and write several pages of all the records of the times when the Lord spoke to His people through the rest of the Old Testament, we would simply suggest that as you read your Bible you keep an eye out for the times when the Lord spoke and how He spoke. There are clearly times when He spoke directly to individuals and other times when an unknown prophet turns up with a word, or even more, when a prophet with a full prophetic ministry is clearly one who hears God – e.g. Elijah, Elisha then the major prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then a number of ‘minor prophets’.

Already, in the limited scan of the earlier part of Israel’s history, we have seen that the Hebrews’ writer is accurate when he says that God spoke, “through the prophets at many times and in various ways”. We are going to go on to see how God then spoke through His Son, Jesus Christ, but that ‘speaking’ involved a lot of action. Perhaps the big difference between Jesus and many of the prophets is that Jesus demonstrated the kingdom of God and the others merely spoke it. The only real exception was Elisha who also demonstrated the wisdom and power of God through his ministry.

Of course, now we are in the era of the Church, the body of Christ, the clear teaching of the New Testament is that we too are to be God’s mouthpiece and we too, like Jesus, are to demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God as he did. Remember he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) That really leaves no room for argument! That is the intended style of life in and through the Church. May we see it more and more.

1. Introduction to Hebrews

Meditations in Hebrews 1: 1. Introduction to Hebrews

Heb 1:1-4  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

A little while ago I started writing a series of short meditations here in Hebrews. I write ‘short meditations’ when I feel under pressure and don’t want to spend quite so long each morning reflecting in depth. The ‘short meds’ are also, I realise, easier to read and so some prefer them to wading through a much longer study in God’s word. So, I started doing this series on Hebrews and got about half a dozen verses through and thought, “This is wrong, this area of Scripture is so full of truth this doesn’t do justice to it, this ‘short’ approach,” so I stopped. The point I would wish to make is that I believe Hebrews is  one of the ‘mining areas’ where you find you are stumbling over gem after gem in every paragraph (Ephesians is also like that). It cannot, indeed it must not be rushed!

But there is a danger in approaching passages like this, passages that are so full of specific truths and it is that as we focus in on one little phrase and then a next little phrase, we can so easily miss the big intent of the writer. For instance, as I quickly peruse these four verses above, I can see there are at least ten gems there to be put under the microscope.

Several years ago, our local jeweller introduced me to diamonds and told me there was a whole range of colours for diamonds and showed me a small spectrum of ten diamonds, I think it was, in a small display box and said, “Tell me what you see.” I peered at these diamonds for a minute or two. My instant respond was, “They are all the same,” but as I studied these stones that appeared the same I came to realise the range was from lighter to darker, hardly discernible but lighter to darker, more yellow at one end. When I made this comment his assistants applauded me. “Let me tell you,” he said, “what a trained jeweller who deals in diamonds has to do. They have to take a test whereby 360 stones are poured out on a table ad you have to order them in colour hues. The last time I did it, I got four wrong, which is considered quite good.”

If a jeweller takes that amount of trouble learning about diamonds, can we not take equal time in discerning the truths of God’s word?  So be warned, we are going to put each one of those gems above under the microscope and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us and enlighten us, to challenge us and feed us. Now over the years I have built up a testimony and it is this: every time I do a study and pray and ask for the Lord’s help, I come away at the end going, “Wow, that was amazing!”  Every time. Now your problem if you read these notes is that you are getting them second hand and if I am honest I have to say I write for my benefit first and last. If, somehow, you can be blessed by them being here, then I am glad, but  the best way is to do it yourself and let God feed you directly. So, read these notes by all means, and if you get blessed by them, I am pleased – but there is a better way.

OK, back to these verses. They are history laden with revelation. If we have read them many times before we may take them for granted but the level of revelation here is immense. They are staggering. In no other world religion will you find such a compressed package of revelation that says so much and makes such staggering claims. If you ever wonder what makes Christianity unique among the world religions, these four verses will give you the answer several times over; in fact I count eight things here about Jesus Christ that mark him out from any other person in all of history. That is how powerful these verses are.

Hebrews, I find, is a bit scary, if that is the right word. It is very Jewish and was clearly written to early Jewish Christian believers and it is packed with Old Testament information. Indeed, in the following remaining verses of chapter 1 there are seven quotations from the Old Testament. In the whole book there are more than 80! I once heard someone say, “Oh, we Christians don’t need the Old Testament.” Well ‘need’ might be quite an emotive word in this context but this book shows us that our understanding of our faith is greatly enhanced by our knowledge of the Old Testament.

But the clue to the thrust of chapter 1 is given away in verse 4 as the writer, speaking of Jesus, says, So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” There was clearly a cult who were focusing on angels and so in chapter 1, after the ‘Prologue’ of verses 1-4, the rest of the chapter goes on to show how Jesus is greater than angels. The rest of the book is about how he is greater than anyone or anything shown in the Old Testament. As a book it is fascinating as it does this.

The writer?  For quite some time it was thought to be Paul but there are so many differences in style so that is generally rejected.  One of the early Church Fathers, suggested Barnabas, and Martin Luther suggested Apollos but generally it is agreed we just don’t know, but that won’t detract from it. Whoever it was, was someone who had deep insight into the wonder of the person of Jesus Christ, a level of revelation that is incredible!

To conclude this first introductory note, we can do no better than suggest you read through these first four verses several times before you finish, and then you can finish by worshipping the One that this is all about, for we will get no further than these verses in the coming week:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.